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Hintergrund: Brighton's Most Exciting Inhabitants

Chockful of Celebs

Brighton was no more than a little seaside town with 1.500 inhabitants when, in 1753, Richard Russell, a doctor from Lewes, started to promote health treatments with sea water. He opened a spa hotel and from near and far, rich people with failing health began to pour into Brighton. Since the 1780s, it has been fashionable to go to Brighton for a holiday – one of the most illustrious guests was the young Prince Regent, the later King George IV. who came to Brighton from 1786 onwards.

Ever since then, Brighton has defended its reputation as a hip, lively and fun town. It has always attracted free spirits and is renowned for its art community. Brighton artists showcase their work once a year during Brighton Festival. Not only are a lot of theatric, musical or literary performances on display, resident artists also open their houses to visitors to present their works where they were produced.

Economically, Brighton is known as "Silicon Beach" because a lot of IT and new media companies are based here.

Because Brighton is so close to London – it is only about an hour away by train – it has developed an extensive nightlife, with many bars, pubs and clubs open all night. There are also many concerts and music festivals all year round.

And that is not all: Brighton is also known as the "gay capital of Britain". It has one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the UK. This has a long history: Even in the 1800s, the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, a friend of Charles Dickens, fled to Brighton each year to spend an untroubled holiday with her partner Hannah. In Brighton they felt that people acknowledged them as a couple – they could even send joint Christmas cards at a time when homosexuality was still looked upon as "unnatural".

The University of Brighton: Stronghold of Great Minds

Brighton is also a place of education, with the University of Sussex, the University of Brighton and the Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Every year, a couple of hundred young people move to Brighton to get a good education and start their careers. This has been the case ever since the foundation stones for the institution were laid that today is the University of Brighton: In 1859 the School of Art opened with 110 students, housed in the kitchens of the Royal Pavilion. Since then, different schools have opened in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. They merged in 1992 to become the University of Brighton. It has five campuses in the three towns, all along the south coast. The beautiful seaside and the sunny weather – sunny for Britain, anyway – is probably one reason why students choose to come here. The other might be the great educational record of the University of Brighton: reports regularly show that teaching and research quality are both outstanding.

Education has always been the Brighton area's strong suit. Historically, many boarding schools were located in or around Brighton. From the Britons who went to school there, many have gone on to great things. Among them were even the two greatest Britons of all time. Well – at least according to the British TV audience. In 2002 the BBC held a public vote on who the United Kingdom public considers the greatest British people in history. And the Top 2 actually attended school in Brighton as children.

Engineering Genius: Brunel

Coming in second was engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859). The young Brunel's engineering talent became apparent very quickly. His father wanted him to have a first-class education so when he was eight, he was sent to boarding school in Hove, near Brighton. At age 14 he left Brighton for France to attend school in Normandy and Paris.

His first real job was as an assistant engineer with his father: He helped him create a tunnel under the Thames in London. His father became famous in his own right when this project finally succeeded but it had taken almost twenty years and on one occasion Brunel narrowly escaped death in an accident.

Brunel is famous for his ingenious bridge designs – for example that of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. At the time of construction – in the mid-1800s – this bridge had the longest span of any bridge in the world (210 metres). The 1800s were a time when, especially in Britain, engineering techniques were developed at a rapid pace. Everything always had to become bigger, wider, deeper and stronger – what a great age to be an engineer. It was also the age of transportation, with railways and steamships taking off. And Brunel was involved in both: He developed the Great Western Railway running from London to Bristol and Exeter and extended this line with steamships all the way to New York.

The Greatest Briton of All: Churchill

  • Winston Churchill hebt die Hand zum Victory-Zeichen; Rechte: dpa Winston Churchill went to school in Brighton as well.

Brunel died very early, at age 53, of a stroke, in 1859. As the 2002 BBC poll shows, Britons still revere him today. But there is one man whom they love even more: Winston Churchill (1874-1965). And he, too, went to school in Brighton: He attended Brunswick School in Hove.

Churchill was not a very good pupil and often got into trouble with his teachers. His father Lord Randolph Churchill, whom he had a very poor relationship with, sent him to the Royal Military School. Churchill served in Cuba and India where he started to write about his endeavours. His books were quite popular at the time. In 1899 he resigned from the military to become a full-time author, journalist and politician. A year later he was first elected into Parliament.

Churchill was one of the few to see Hitler for what he really was, famously criticizing Prime Minister Chamberlain's Appeasement Policy with the words "You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war." It was Churchill who would have war, however: Chamberlain resigned and Churchill was appointed Prime Minister. During the war he led Britain wisely, encouraging the nation with many great speeches. A great observer of historical and contemporary events throughout his life, he was the one to coin the term "iron curtain" in a speech during a trip to the USA.

Great Style from Brighton

Brighton has also been home to quite a few celebrities of our day. Its beautiful seaside atmosphere has always attracted artists and free thinkers: Australian singer Nick Cave lived on a houseboat for quite some years that was docked in Brighton before it changed location to London. The Encantada reportedly had two bedrooms, two storeys, two bathrooms and a staggering 147 square metres of floor space. When Nick Cave sold it in 2004, the luxurious floating home changed owners for £385,000.

Great ideas were born in Brighton, for instance the idea for a shop selling skin care products in refillable containers and small sizes, marketed without much hype. When Anita Roddick opened the first such shop in Brighton in 1976, her idea was to support herself and her two daughters while her husband was abroad. On his return, he joined her in the business: The Body Shop was born. It was a small cosmetics store between two funeral parlours that sold nice-smelling products with interesting stories. A hugely successful story that started in Brighton.

Still going strong is another Brighton celebrity: Norman Cook came to the seaside to attend Brighton Polytechnic. He stayed to become Britain's most successful DJ under the pseudonym Fatboy Slim. Hits like "Rockafeller Skunk" or "Praise You" hit the charts in the 90s. Fatboy Slims free open air parties in Brighton are legendary. In 2002, 250 000 people came to "The Big Beach Boutique II", a beach party laid out for 60 000. The overcrowding caused the police to shut the party down early but this led to hours of traffic jams all around Brighton.

A Royal by the Seaside: George IV

  • Die Außenansicht des Royal Pavilions in Brighton; Rechte: Imago King George IV built the Royal Pavilion in the oriental style.

Celebrities may sometimes have caused upheaval in Brighton but they also did their part in giving Brighton the atmosphere it has today. One of Brighton's most interesting sights, the Royal Pavilion, was built for Brighton's most royal inhabitant at the time: the Prince Regent who would later become King George IV.

George was an extravagant man, and he loved to party. His excesses with women and alcohol and his expensive lifestyle were subject to much wonder and criticism. He was constantly short on money and had to ask Parliament for a bigger allowance. When George came to Brighton to try out the fashionable seawater treatments, he rented a small farmhouse that was later transformed into a larger mansion called the Marine Pavilion. But when George had to be sworn in as Prince Regent because his father was no longer fit to reign, he decided he wanted a larger place for all the large social events he was to host. So he commissioned John Nash to transform the modest villa into an oriental palace. George was fascinated by the orient and chose many Chinese and Indian wallpapers and fabrics. He was also determined to achieve the highest standard of comfort and convenience in lighting, heating and sanitation.

Today, many historians agree that George's presence in Brighton gave the town just the boost it needed. It may be thanks to this king that Brighton still attracts so many interesting people. And of course, the town profits from George's Royal Pavilion: It is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.